Friday, January 9, 2009

walking in wool

Yesterday, three of us spent a very happy few hours making 'felt feet' by walking in wool, using a method being promoted as an artistic activity by Dartmoor-based felt-maker Yuli Somme.

The idea came about on a long walk I took with her in Norway in 2004, following her father 's account of his escape across the mountains from the coast to neutral Sweden during the war, having been arrested for photographing a torpedo station for the resistance movement. Yuli cared for her feet on the rough walk by placing small pieces of wool fleece inside her boots, wrapping the toes to protect them from each other. She was intrigued and delighted (as a textile artist) to discover at the end of each day that the action of compression, damp, heat, had felted the wool into little molds of her toes.

Since then she has experimented with wrapping the whole foot, and created a sequence of her own felt feet. She planted them on Dartmoor at the midwinter solstice 2007, and is now documenting their return to the land. As she says: 'Wool is born of the land we live in and will ultimately return without trace, to feed the soil and in turn provide nourishment for the sheep and wildlife'. It's worth getting one of her 'feet felt' kits in order to not only get the instructions and fleece you need to do it yourself, but also to watch the inspiring film she's made of her project, and the wool feet, furred with frost, walking their eerie parade across the moor as the sun rises.

The method is simple but important to get right. And it's good to have a friend to 'dress' your feet rather than trying to do it yourself. It's a sensuous experience despite the cold drips, the smell of lanolin. You cover the wet wool in plastic, put on your boots and take a walk. When you come back you slip off the most beautiful moulds of your feet, highly personal, and strangely beautiful artefacts.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hamish's map

I love maps. There's something about the combination of line, image and sparse text that appeals endlessly to my imagination in conjuring landscape and places. As part of my walking and writing workshops, I've often asked participants to sketch a 'map' of the walk we've just undertaken.I keep instructions to a minimum so that each person can approach it in their own style. Mine tends to be a mixture of image and word generated by landscape features or by incidents that happened in specific places, my own names for places, and a sense of the shape of the walk. But other people see the walk as a continuous straight line, or ripples of words expressing sensation experienced and observation almost as if they are contours. Rarely have people come up with a very literal or schematic expression of the place.

Hamish Ashcroft, a friend's son aged six, has made this extraordinary map of Aberfeldy, transferring his observations from one dimension to another. It amazes me that a six year old can make this conceptual leap. It is a highly accurate representation including key landmarks, the river Tay, the curve of streets and crescents in relation to each other, and is also a very beautiful object.

It can be seen on proud display in the Aberfeldy Watermill. I'm sure any cartography commissions can reach him c/o their address!